Updated with more information at 6:45 p.m. on Nov. 11, 2020.
Before he became the architect of multiple championship softball programs in Hamilton County, Clifford Kirk had made a career out of building other people's homes.
Kirk transitioned to educator and high school coach in the mid-1980s and went on to build three programs into state tournament regulars, producing numerous college signees and making an impact on the lives of every girl who played for him.
Kirk died early Wednesday morning at his home at the age of 83, passing away while resting in his favorite chair.
"It was a blessing that he went in peace," said Kirk's daughter Cindy Mosgrove, who added that her father had complained of not feeling well in recent days. "The softball community was his world. That's where his love was, and it's what kept him going as long as he did. He lived for being out on the field and did what he loved for such a long time. What more could you want?"
Kirk, who was inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame in 2005, won more than 1,100 games in a career that spanned 30-plus years, with his teams earning 10 state championships — eight at Soddy-Daisy and two at Hixson. His championship total at Soddy-Daisy is the most for any public school in Hamilton County.
He had coached Sale Creek for the past eight seasons, guiding the Lady Panthers to multiple state tournament appearances, including a Class A runner-up finish in 2018.
Kirk had two known on-field cardiac episodes, with the first in 2013 requiring paramedics to use a defibrillator. He had battled other health problems, and during one in-season stay in the hospital, he was given an iPad so he could watch live streams of Sale Creek games.
He had joked with a friend about not realizing he could be heard through another iPad that was set up at the game until the umpires began to tell him to stop arguing calls so loudly through the speakers.
"We used to kid around that he would probably die while he was standing on the third-base line coaching a game because that's just where he spent most of his time," Mosgrove said. "He thought it was funny, but after he actually almost died on the field, we stopped joking about that. The first thing he said both times after coming back to consciousness was 'Did we win?'
"The players all made a difference in his life, and at his age, he still wanted to be out there coaching the kids and was already talking about looking forward to being back next spring."
Kirk's teams won 20 district championships and made 21 state tournament appearances, finishing runner-up four times in addition to their 10 championships. He was named coach of the year on the state level nine times.
The field at Sale Creek is named in honor of Kirk and his wife Ruth, and the stadium at Soddy-Daisy is also named in his honor.
"Chattanooga is known for always having some of the best softball teams in the state, and to me, he was the best coach there was," said Soddy-Daisy coach Kelsey Nunley, who won two state titles playing for Kirk with the Lady Trojans and went on to play at the University of Kentucky and as a professional. "He is a legend who always knew how to get the best out of you. Even with the amount of talent he had, he knew how to manage it.
"I pitched a one-hitter against Walker Valley one time, and I was so proud of myself and waiting for him to finally brag on me, but instead he looked at me and said 'I can't believe you gave up that hit.' That really drove me to find a way to make him proud. He might not always say it in the nicest way, but he knew how to get you to play your best, and at the end of the day, no matter how tough he was, you knew he cared about you."
Nunley was also part of a Soddy-Daisy team that finished with a state-record 52-2 overall record and was ranked in the top five of two national polls.
"He was great at working with pitchers and was a mastermind at calling pitches," said Baylor coach Kelli Smith, who played and coached against Kirk. "When he had an ace on the mound, he was almost impossible to beat because he was just such a competitor.
"One of the last times I spoke with him, I asked him why he hadn't hung it up yet, and he said that he really wanted to take Sale Creek to win a championship. He said he really felt like he had one more championship run left in him, and that's what he was working toward."
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